Do you know the least visited National Park? While the Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the US, Olympic National Park in Washington State is the least visited. If you are staying in Seattle there are two ways to get to the peninsula. You can drive south towards Olympia and take Highway 101 or you can take the ferry to Bainbridge Island. Then follow Hwy 112 to Hwy101. Along the way you will cross over the Hood Canal. This is the longest fjord and floating bridge in the US. After crossing the bridge you continue driving to the park’s visitor center in Port Angeles.
Olympic National Park has a lot of natural diversity and breathtaking scenery with over 922,651 acres of preserved wilderness. Little has changed since it first became a home for Native American tribes. In the 1500s European settlements began. President Grover Cleveland designated the area as the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897 and in 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the act establishing the area as a National Park. Finally in 1981 the area was named a World Heritage site in recognition of its exceptional natural beauty and outstanding diversity of plants and animals.
If you go in early summer the green grass and white & yellow wildflowers along the highway seem to go on forever. The park contains the only rain forest type flora in the contiguous U.S—265 inches of rain per year and sometimes even more than that. The peninsula is home to the only rainforests in the Continental United States. These forests are among the rainiest places in the world.
Bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Hood Canal and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the peninsula has as a backdrop the majestic Olympic Mountains. At 7,980 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest peak in the park and is easily spotted.
It is also the site of the restoration of the upper reaches of the Elwha River–the largest dam removal project in the U.S. The last of the two very illegal and century old power dams on the Elwha will finally be removed. This should restore fish habitat and what had been a legendary salmon run of five to six foot King and Sockeye salmon might even have a chance to return. Although if this happens the salmon will probably not be the size nor numbers of the past. Both dams were illegally built on the Elwha with no fish ladders. The city of Port Angeles will also benefit from this project with safer drinking water.
Spectacular waterfalls as well as herds of Roosevelt elk are found in this area. Just passed Port Angeles is a pristine 10-acre natural lake over six hundred feet deep called Lake Crescent. The first time I drove by the lake the beauty took my breath away. It is a glacial lake and the deep blues and greens are amazing.
The way you can always spot a glacier lake is by its colors. What happened was as the glaciers moved the ice scraped against the surrounding stone. This stone became ground up into a fine silt called “rock flour.” As it entered the rivers and streams the silt of the rock flour was suspended in the water. The reflection of light off the particles eliminates all the colors of the color spectrum except for the beautiful blues and greens. In the Canadians Rockies you find lakes such a beautiful emerald green it literally takes you breath away.
Just passed the lake is Marymere Falls. If you visit in the summer you will notice large Western Red Cedars and fields of grass loaded with daisies stretched before you. Then you can take a short but steep one and a half mile hike to the viewing bridge. The waters of Falls Creek drop nearly 90 feet from a cliff into a small plunge pool near the trail below. And if you are lucky and the sun hits the water just right you will see rainbows.
If you continue west you arrive at Neah Bay. At this point the road turns south. When I traveled to that town I drove straight for two miles and ended up on a dirt road for another five miles. When the road ended I was at the overlook of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I could see Tatoosh Island in the distance. This is where the waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the waters of the strait. I had arrived at the Northernmost spot in the contiguous US.
Whether you like hiking, backpacking or just enjoying the scenery this area should be on your bucket list. There are so many things to do and see in the area and pictures do not do justice to the incredible sights. This next summer I will be conducting a tour to this area in July. If anyone is interested, email me at email@example.com for details. And don’t forget to check out “Journey Beckons” on Amazon to read more about this area.
Editor’s note: To read in depth about the Seattle, WA area, check out Kileen’s book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at www.kileenprather.com or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition.
Happy to say that Kileen has been very busy. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon/kindle, and it’s also in book form through Amazon. Also, on her website (www.kileenprather.com), you can both preview a few chapters as well as order the book.
Ohhhhh my. Kileen is hitting a “home-run” again! Just released: “Journey To The Tropics” in which she explores love the second time around – all set within lush environment of the Bahamas! Enjoy – and visit Amazon to get your copy!